This is a simple page to celebrate the life of John Hartley Williams. Please feel welcome to add a comment below

 Thank you for your heartfelt messages.
The funeral will take place in Berlin, Germany at 11am on the 16th June 2014 at: Kirchhof der Ev. Kirchgemeinde Marienfelde Marienfelder Allee 127 12277 Berlin
Anyone is welcome to come and pay their respects. Natalie Williams (John’s daughter)

The Guardian ran a lovely obituary on John here



  1. Reply
    Denise June 16, 2014

    La disparition de notre ancien collègue John m’attriste profondément. Il était charmant, il était brillant et les échanges avec lui étaient enrichissants.

  2. Reply
    Richard Toovey June 14, 2014

    I first met John in Berlin in 1993, at a workshop that he had organised with a group of visiting Bloodaxe poets, including his good friend Ken Smith, who behaved generously to me as a ‘young poet’. John was equally generous on various occasions over the years and we gradually became friends. When I interviewed him for Border Crossing magazine in 2007, I was surprised to discover that we both appreciated the poetry of Robert Graves and shared his view of the poet’s calling (minus the mysticism). Given the larger-than-life impression of John’s own poetry, I had not expected this, but re-reading “Bright River Yonder” after that, I saw that the bravado grew out of tenderness and passion.
    In the same interview, he spoke of surrealism as “a view of the world that admits the priority of the workings of the unconscious” – a definition that I find attractive for its openness. In my view, this was the touchstone that gave him the enviable freedom to use any word in any style of speech that seemed right, without being inhibited by convention. It was as though life were a geode that he cracked open to reveal the variety of crystals sparkling inside.

  3. Reply
    Annie Larner May 24, 2014

    Farewell dear friend, thank you for your friendship, the sestinas are my bedside read – but I miss you and your energy and sharp wit.

  4. Reply
    will kemp May 24, 2014

    This news fills me with sadness. John did the “blurb on the back” for my first collection, Nocturnes, and what a fine job he did too, plugging themes of wonder and humour – qualities that were very much him. It was a massive gift from him to me, a nervous novice who knew no other big name poets – one of those debts in life you can never repay, like someone rescuing your child from a speeding car. Rightly of wrongly, I will always think of him as that rare thing: a poet that didn’t take himself too seriously, and could make others laugh out loud. Thank you then for your life John, and the fact that it intersected with mine, however briefly.

  5. Reply
    Rod Ellis May 23, 2014

    I knew him at Nottingham in the 60s as my best friend and the most interesting guy around. Looks like he went on being interesting all his life. I regret not having had him more in my life.

  6. Reply
    Kenneth Cox May 23, 2014

    I was deeply saddened to learn yesterday of John’s death. I had met John only a handful of times and greatly enjoyed the pleasure of his company, his warmth and his wit, his non-conformist sensibility, his love of language and setting words at play (and the words very much reciprocated the feeling). Although he had one foot just on the inside of the literary establishment, the other one was always ready to give it a good, sharp kick, with a wink to Benjamin Péret, who we both admired. We had the privilege of publishing two of his wonderful short stories and a pamphlet collection of his poems; we were looking forward to future collaborations and, not least, convivial encounters. I think of John often and had been hoping to see him again sometime, to raise a glass. I will miss him immensely.

  7. Reply
    John Murray Hartley May 21, 2014

    I am very, very sad to learn of my cousin John’s death. He was great fun to be around.

  8. Reply
    Ernst-Georg Richter May 16, 2014

    John Williams was one of my tutors at the language lab when I was studying English at the Free University of Berlin in the 1980s. I remember him as the most sympathetic and approachable language teacher I had at the time, and even though he mentioned it once or twice, my fellow students and I may not have realized that poetry was his true profession. I am sorry I lost touch with him back then, and I am sad to hear about his death today, but it should be a comfort to everyone who knew him that his poetry will live on to remind us of his smile.

  9. Reply
    Nigel Williams May 15, 2014

    Very touched by all these comments. He was a lot of fun to have as a brother. I shall miss him more than I can say

  10. Reply
    Mark Ward May 14, 2014

    I met John during his residency at the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere. I remember him as a man with impeccable taste, who enjoyed fine French wine and good grammar in equal measure. He was also one of the finest and most original poets of his generation. Canada was my book of the 90s. He was ageless and timeless with a wonderful sense of humour, and that’s how I’ll remember him. Rest in peace my friend.

    Mark Ward

  11. Reply
    Christopher North May 12, 2014

    I first met John at Totleigh Barton in the mid 90s; he was running a course there with Matthew Sweeney. It was a memorable week of wine, conversation and a lot of poetry. We then met several times over the years at readings, at the Poetry on the Lake Festival in Orta and finally I invited him to run a course for us here at the Almassera Vella in 2010. He was an inspiring tutor, generous, perceptive and original. When all the visiting poets went home I took John , at his request, to Murcia to witness a bull-fight. The nephew of the great Cordobes was fighting – John had seen El Cordobes senior when a teenager. It was a baking hot day and we talked poetry, life and humour whilst waiting for the corrida to start. He was fascinating company and a brilliant poet. I was deeply saddened to hear of his passing.

  12. Reply
    Annie May 12, 2014

    John’s help in getting the support of the Literaturhaus for the Creative Writing Group e.V in the early 1990s was so gratefully appreciated. His subsequent workshops for the group were warm and wonderful and the important poetic presence he created in Berlin will be remembered and missed.

  13. Reply
    Ruth Boswell May 11, 2014

    We at Muswell Press are proud to be the publishers of John’s and Matthew Sweeney’s comic spoof thriller. It was a privilege to know him and work with him.
    Ruth Boswell, Barney Beech, Jan Woolf

  14. Reply
    Tim Liardet May 10, 2014

    I reviewed John’s book Spending Time with Walter for what was then Leviathan Quarterly. Several weeks later, John and I met for the first time at a Poetry Society event in Betterton Street and talked about the review, joked about it, sort of made friends through it. From that moment on a bond was formed between us that never was broken. We were good friends, we reviewed each other positively, spent time together in Berlin and at numerous UK festivals. The fact that John was an expatriate for such a long period of time, and therefore wrote in exile, gave his work and self a very particular quality, a very particular dignity. I will miss him very badly. The last time I saw him, at Kings Lynn festival, he seemed sure he had got the all clear from cancer. Tragically, this turned out to be not the case. And UK poetry has lost one of its true gentlemen. And many people have lost a real protagonist and friend.

  15. Reply
    James Pankhurst May 10, 2014

    What a joy it was to sit around John’s supper table with his wife Gizi as they reminisced about their daughter Natalie and as we delved into so many other fine topics. I learned to see Dylan Thomasas a major poet through John’s perspicacious appreciation of him, and I must be one of many who have benefitted so much from being John’s friend. Not everyone realises that John was also a professional and pioneer in the field of English language teaching. One small-minded educational publisher actually dismissed him because there was “too much sex and not enough grammar” in his material. He has enriched all our lives.

  16. Reply
    Joe Neal May 10, 2014

    I knew John – or Jay as we called him – when we were undergraduates together at Nottingham University. He was a very great friend and, like most students striking out into the world after graduation, we gradually lost contact. That is my greatest regret. We were in touch again in recent months and I had hoped we’d meet once more. Anyone who has ever known him will see and feel his presence in everything that is good and wise and wicked and wonderful and sad and happy – and inadvertantly hilarious. He once, tauntingly, accused me of never saying goodbye; John was not the kind of person you said goodbye to – once met, he is always with you. I now have most of your books, John, and they adorn my shelves here in Wexford, Ireland.
    Gizella, Natalie and the rest of your family, please accept my deepest condolences. Joe Neal.

  17. Reply
    Paul McLoughlin May 9, 2014

    John wrote to me after I had reviewed Blues thanking me for not being baffled by it. We became good friends after that and I shall miss him terribly. I shall also miss the almost-daily emails which always contained stuff to learn from. A generous man who remained impatient for the solos to start. It was good to see him last month at the launch of his ‘The Golden Age of Smoking’.

  18. Reply
    Gabriel Griffin May 8, 2014

    This news has saddened me immensely, John came twice to Poetry on the Lake and was the most delightful person, besides being an enchanting poet,generous with his time, acute with his advice, a real asset to the event and a good friend. My condolences to his family, he will be missed by many.

  19. Reply
    Tim Cumming May 8, 2014

    A while since I’d seen him, and the LRB reading last autumn with Matthew Sweeney, cancelled as his illness returned, was the last chance (for me) to hear him reading and now permanently missed. A loss for poetry, whose work was too big to fill convenient holes and holders. A big man, greedy for the call and response of good talk and good work. As Matthew said, if there’s a service, let us know…

  20. Reply
    Colin Shaddick May 8, 2014

    I was saddened to hear of John’s death. He was my tutor for a while and he gave me the strength to progress with my poetry. I performed with him at the Poetry Cafe once. It was an experience I’ll never forget. He was a great poet and a kind and genuine man. He will be greatly missed.

    Colin Shaddick.

  21. Reply
    Robert Grant May 8, 2014

    Whilst still in University i picked up a copy of ‘The New Poetry’ and read John Hartley Williams for the first time. Years and many poems later, he actually came to one of my shows and I got the chance to meet and talk with him.
    His compliments flattered, his advice stayed with me to this day, his grace and humility will stay with me until the day I die.

    An amazing man…fine poet and a great supporter of poetry in Berlin. I am humbled to have met him and will now scream from my window, that a great one is gone.
    RIP Sir…sleep well as your words will now take the weight. A sad day.

  22. Reply
    John Freeman May 8, 2014

    The freshness of John’s voice in poetry was a priceless treasure for those of who live by poetry and are constantly seeking what we so rarely find in contemporary voices.We found it n spades in his work. he made a difference, he shone. His work will last, a constant inspiration.

  23. Reply
    John Greening May 7, 2014

    A real blow to poetry, though perhaps the wider world of readers won’t quite realise what an extraordinary, untypical contemporary British poet he was. I didn’t always warm to his books but his writing was never dull. He was committed to a Whitmanesque breadth of subject matter. You felt he could include everything (as Mahler said, his work ‘contained worlds’). I don’t think we ever met, but I heard him read once or twice long ago. The only good thing to come out of the death of a poet (as with the late Rosemary Tonks) is that it sends us back to the poetry.

  24. Reply
    John MacKenna May 7, 2014

    Met him once, briefly, when we were both facilitating workshops in Listowel. A lovely man.May he rest in peace

  25. Reply
    matthew caley May 7, 2014

    All hail and farewell to the stentorian Mr JHW – a one-off, an original—–;
    he was very generous to me on many occasions -a year or so ago at The King’s Lynn
    Poetry festival it was great to get to spend a few full days in his company -he was
    a man who like to talk to a man who liked to talk and a definite force.
    Very sad -we’ll not see his like again. Will re-read his Six Sestinas pamphlet
    again tonight in homage. Raise a glass and all support to his family.

    [PS If there’s some kind of service could you let me know?]

  26. Reply
    Neil May 7, 2014

    Just heard the sad news through Facebook. His novel, A Mystery In Spiderville, completely changed my life and his poems really made me look differently at what you can achieve through that art form. I interviewed him for MMU’s student magazine too and he was really accomodating. I’ve posted the interview for posterity on my website. Absolutely gutted. RIP

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